“But, fair sir, since thou art a stranger, and art presently departing from our city, I will tell thee a thing. To wit; one month or so after she had vanished away, I held talk with a certain old fisherman of our water, and he told me that on that same night of her vanishing, as he stood on the water-side handing the hawser of his barque, and the sail was all ready to be sheeted home, there came along the shore a woman going very swiftly, who, glancing about her, as if to see that there was none looking on or prying, came up to him, and prayed him in a sweet voice for instant passage down the water. Wrapped she was in a dark cloak and a cowl over her head, but as she put forth her hand to give him gold, he saw even by the light of his lantern that it was exceeding fair, and that great gems flashed from the finger-rings, and that there was a great gold ring most precious on her arm.
“He yeasaid her asking, partly because of her gold, partly (as he told me) that he feared her, deeming her to be of the fairy. Then she stepped over his gangway of one board on to his boat, and as he held the lantern low down to light her, lest she should make a false step and fall into the water, he noted (quoth he) that a golden shoe all begemmed came out from under gown-hem and that the said hem was broidered thickly with pearl and jewels.
“Small was his barque, and he alone with the woman, and there was a wind in the March night, and the stream is swift betwixt the quays of our city; so that by night and cloud they made much way down the water, and at sunrise were sailing through the great wood which lieth hence a twenty leagues seaward. So when the sun was risen she stood up in the fore part of the boat, and bade him turn the barque toward the shore, and even as the bows ran upon the sand, she leapt out and let the thicket cover her; nor have any of Goldburg seen her since, or the Queen. But for my part I deem the woman to have been none other than the Queen. Seest thou then! she is gone: but the King Rainald her cousin reigns in her stead, a wise man, and a mighty, and no tyrant or skinner of the people.”
Ralph heard and pondered, and was exceeding sorry, and more had he been but for the joyousness which came of the Water of the Well. Howbeit he might not amend it: for even were he to seek for the Queen and find her, it might well be worse than letting it be. For he knew (when he thought of her) that she loved him, and how would it be if she might not outwear her love, or endure the days of Goldburg, and he far away? This he said to himself, which he might not have said to any other soul.
They Come to Cheaping Knowe Once More. Of the King Thereof
Toward evening comes Redhead, and tells Ralph how he hired him a dozen men-at-arms to follow him well-weaponed to Cheaping Knowe: withal he counselled him to take a good gift with him to that same town to buy the good will of the King there; who was a close-fist and a cruel lord.